By Harry Phibbs
Follow Harry on Twitter
For the last 650 years in our country we have had an honours system "recognising merit, gallantry and service." As well as the New Year’s Honours, we have another list for The Queen’s official birthday. The latter for this year was announced this morning.
It is a great source of celebration. The tradition is crucial to the prestige. Money is a very good way of rewarding achievement but it is welcome that it's not the only one. So the honours system is a national asset. It very much goes along with the system of monarchy – being given a medal by President Cameron or President Miliband would not resonate in the same way.
The quiet patriotism of the British means that the correct form is to treat receiving an honour as a bit of a joke while secretly having a sense of great pride. For Conservatives there is a double satisfaction. There is the rejoicing for colleagues who are honoured. (Well done Edward Leigh on your knighthood.) Then there is also the good sport of teasing Lefties for taking honours. (Arise Sir Brendan Barber for services to UK Uncut…) How wonderfully subversive the British establishment is.
Amidst this innocent pleasure and merriment the traditional role of the Daily Mail is to strike a sour note as they do this morning. The trouble is that they have got a point. Too many of the honours do go to the wrong people. For instance, they note:
Robert Collington – whose company Thames Water stands accused of ripping off customers, avoiding tax and enforcing a farcical hosepipe ban during some of the wettest weather seen in England – will be given an OBE ‘for services to consumers’.
Thames Water is a monopoly. There are plenty of business leaders out there who have genuinely achieved great things for the consumer in providing new products and better value. A monopolist is an odd choice. But do go-getting entrepreneurs get an even break compared to the cosy corporatists schmoozing around the CBI?
Do those who have set up charities that have achieved remarkable results have a fair chance against the highly paid charity bureaucrats in well established bodies that have almost become a branch of the state?
How many honours are allocated according to politically correct box ticking ("services to equality and diversity")? Honours are a celebration of inequality – or accepting that a few people merit some special distinction. A special honour for services to equality is nonsense.
Does the "former Senior Policy Officer of the Equality and Human Rights Commission" really merit an OBE? Is there really so little heroism, voluntary dedication and talent around that recognition on this level should go to deadbeat Quangocrats?
Do council leaders receive an honour for achieving something through being innovative? Or from time-serving on some Local Government Association committee?
The Honours System has been tarnished by New Labour. There does need to be greater rigour both in the criteria, the quotas for different categories, and in who makes the recommendations. One can imagine, for example, that the teachers that Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted would recommend might be rather different to those that would be favoured by Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers.
Charles Moore writing in the Daily Telegraph this morning gave a warning of how honours can do harm:
Much more important – from the point of view of the general public – you frequently find that Muslim groups like Tell Mamma get taxpayers’ money (though, in its case, this is now coming to an end). You discover that leading figures of respectable officialdom share conference platforms with dubious groups. You learn that Muslim charities with blatantly political aims and Islamist links have been let off lightly by the Charity Commission. And you notice that many bigwigs in Muslim groups are decorated with public honours. Fiyaz Mughal, for example, who runs Tell Mamma, has an OBE. Obviously it would be half-laughable, half-disgusting, if activists of the EDL were indulged in this way; yet they are, in fact, less extreme than some of those Muslims who are.
The Honours System is a wonderful thing. It a a great boost to the Big Society in the way it rewards those who give their time or money to charity. In celebrating heroism it allows the rest of us to share in the pride of the recipients. That makes it all the more important that it is not devalued by ill-judged awards.